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Issue No.: 573 | March 2015

Obama Visit: An Era of Modi Doctrine

Nitin G. Raut
In geopolitical terms, the emergence of China as a military and economic global power and a competitor to the US should by itself ensure convergence of mutual strategic interest between India and the USA.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the US President Barack Obama have authored a new era in Indo-US relations. It is a display of India's power diplomacy that is on the roll. It is an engagement that has elevated the level of relations of the two democracies and will lead to consistency in policy and relations even if it is more out of compulsion and necessity. For the first time Indo-US relations are crafted by delinking the Pakistan factor and making the relations central to a wider Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean Region. The signs were already visible when Obama hosted the first State banquet for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but UPA, still clinging to the fossilised Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and overtly sensitive to the Chinese reaction, dissipated the US goodwill in Obama's first term.

In geopolitical terms, the emergence of China as a military and economic global power and a competitor to the US should by itself ensure convergence of mutual strategic interest. The US realizes that for the US to focus on East Asia and the Pacific Region where China is sabre-rattling on Senkaku Islands and the South China Sea, India can be a good counter balance if it emerges as an economic and military power. Also the thrust of Modi's diplomacy is economic benefits by inducing the US investments and defence purchases. The US knows that for a stable South Asia, India is the bulwark against China. It is in this larger strategic framework that the US and India are redefining their strategic priorities so that the US maintains its global primacy and India emerges as an Asia Power. 

Modi’s Game Plan

If ideology is to be considered, the BJP under Narendra Modi is closer to the Republicans. Even in Modi’s difficult days of international isolation and denial of US Visa many conservative Republicans rallied around for Modi. Obama is perceived as a "liberal" in the Democratic Party while Modi is a dyed in the wool of RSS pracharak groomed in politics where nationalist feeling is the bedrock of the RSS ideology. Yet Modi is shrewd enough to capitalize on US goodwill by not only elevating defence and strategic relationship but simultaneously ensuring an atmosphere conducive for the US business interests and investment which ensure and create jobs as much as in the US as in India. It is such economic interdependence that will ensure a sustained interest in mutually beneficial defence and strategic co-operation. And Modi is striking when the iron is hot. It is an era of Modi Doctrine of the Indian foreign policy. Modi’s efforts are to secure India as a global player in international affairs where India’s voice becomes crucial. It is in this context the operationalisation of the Nuclear Deal is a diplomatic master stroke by Modi.

Pragmatic Approach

India is certainly emerging as a major nation with whom the US is seeking to deepen its ties on defence, terrorism, business and trade. The hallmark of Modi’s foreign policy is pragmatism devoid of ideological constraints. Therefore the US is no more an "imperialistic” power and neither is Russia a ‘champion’ of the Third World. India has rightly asserted world navigational freedom in the South China Sea and, at the same time, kept the doors open for US and Chinese investments. The multilevel engagement ensures tactical flexibility in India’s foreign policy.

It is an opportunity for both but with a difference. For Obama in his second term there are no stakes of re-election except his contribution to the US foreign policy and strategic interest and retaining US primacy as the unchallenged global power. For Modi in the first year of his five year term the stakes are enormous. The development agenda in a way hinges on Indo - US Economic Co-operation and business investment in India. Any slip up will impact BJP's re-election in 2019

Upgrading Defence

The visit has seen a significant upgrading of defence co-operation. The US decision to help India build a large 65,000 tonnes aircraft carrier is not just beneficial for India but is an explicit acceptance of India's strategic role in the Indian Ocean. After years of Army centric defence policy, understandably so given the fact that India has a long land boundary with two hostile neighbours – Pakistan and China, India under Modi has expedited the modernization of the Indian Navy. Today the US is India's single largest supplier of military hardware, and India has to capitalize politically. 

The southern tip of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is 150 kms from Sumatra, the mainland of Indonesia and overlooks the Straits of Malacca. India should bolster its naval base in the Andamans in a manner that the Indian Navy is able to impose a sustained blockade in Malacca should the need arise. 70% of China's oil supplies from the Gulf passes through Malacca and India should build a naval power to command and control Malacca in a manner that China realises the potency of India's geo strategic capacity which, if effectively calibrated in alliance with the US, can temper China's adventurism on India's northern borders. 

In his State of Nation address, Obama has declared war on terrorism and India should play its due role. The ISIS considers India, Israel and the US as enemies of Islam. On the vexed issue of Af-Pak, it would be in the interest of overall Asian stability that the US restrains Pakistan plan to subjugate Afghanistan and prop-up Taliban. This will enable India to play a positive role in rebuilding Afghanistan and also keep terrorists at bay. With the victory of Maithripala Sirisena in Sri Lanka, India should seize the opportunity to restore the warmth in relations with Sri Lanka.

The US will, of course, continue its proximity to Pakistan in spite of the latter’s State sponsorship of terrorism. The US needs Pakistan territory and it readily obliges and at times Pakistan even hands over wanted terrorists to placate the US. This should not perturb India. The Nehruvian non-alignment which was a euphemism for anti US "imperialism" was a historical malignancy that afflicted the relations. The Modi Doctrine aims to rebalance this macabre aspect of NAM. Otherwise Asia may witness China attempting to replicate the erstwhile Russian Plan to carve out a Soviet era sphere of influence.

NITIN G. RAUT, a regular contributor to this journal is an
advocate by profession. 





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